According to the Innocence Project, more than 1 in every 4 people who were wrongly convicted of a crime and were later exonerated by DNA evidence, made a false confession. That’s over a quarter of the total. How did that happen? Why would an innocent person confess to a crime they didn’t commit? The answer to that question is not a simple or straight forward one, but it is one that needs to be addressed.
There is, however, one key element present in almost all false confessions, says the Innocence Project. That key is the belief that “complying with the police by saying that they committed the crime in question will be more beneficial than continuing to maintain their innocence.” Unfortunately, this never works in the favor of the accused, as they are essentially signing away their innocence and in many cases, their future.
The bigger question that we keep coming back to is ‘how.’ How do the police get an innocent person to admit to a crime they didn’t commit? The results of an interesting study, published in 2015, address this issue by providing chilling answers to this question.
“Constructing Rich False Memories of Committing Crime”, published by Psychological Science, was researched and authored by Dr. Julia Shaw and Dr. Stephen Porter. It reveals a frightening reality in which our memories are not always our own. And it’s not just that our recall cannot be trusted, but that it can be manipulated. Changed. Created new out of whole cloth under the expert instruction of an interrogator. Criminal defense lawyers at The Kronzek Firm have studied false confessions for many years.
According to Shaw and Porter, “Full episodic false memories of committing crime can be generated in a controlled experimental setting.” This is terrifying and also somewhat unbelievable. How could someone remember committing a crime that they didn’t, in fact, commit? If you ask Shaw and Porter, the answer is: easily enough.
In their study the pair interviewed college-aged students, 70% of whom came away convinced that they had committed a crime that they weren’t actually guilty of. Each participant sat through three, 45 minutes interviews during which time Shaw used suggestive memory-retrieval techniques to convince each participant of their fictional crime.
Impossible, you say? Unfortunately not.
Starting with basic background information that Shaw had gleaned from family and friends of the participants, she began the process. She extracted information from each participant about one factual experience that they actually recalled, and one fabricated experience that she had convinced them of.
Just a few hours later, the students began to create the details of those crimes in their own minds, stitching together memories of an event that never happened. Some recalled the false events with such clarity that they were able to “recall” details that Shaw didn’t even ask about. In one girl’s case, she even recalled the hair color of the arresting officer. That’s right. She remembered the hair color of the fictional officer who never actually arrested her because she was never arrested. Our own criminal defense attorneys in Michigan have replicated this very scenario in the courtroom to show the jury how it can be done.
Apparently, once people believe something to be true, their imagination begins the process of filling in the details and creating the surrounding memory to support the belief. So the catch is getting someone to believe something. Something that they know to be false. You would think that would be impossible, and yet it happens regularly. Once a skilled interrogator understands the technique, it becomes much easier to do. Truth be told, police officers are trained, skilled and expert in questioning suspects. Curious? Try Googling “Reid technique of interrogation.” You’ll see what we mean.
Join us next time, when we will be continuing this discussion about false confessions, and the factors that contribute to it. Until then, if you or a loved one have been falsely accused of a crime, contact us immediately! Don’t wait even one more minute. Your future and your reputation at stake here. Don’t wait and hope that the cops will “figure it out” in the end, or that the truth will reveal itself. We are available 24/7 to resolve false allegations and dispute lies. Call our Michigan criminal defense team at 866-766-5245. We can help you.